August 2018

It’s been one hot month.  And humid.  Not your typical Maine weather.  I took my walks extra early to avoid the heat, but still got soaked by the humidity.Foggy almost every morning, and the moisture hung around all day.  It was good for the plants, though.  The garden was loving it.  Lots of tomatoes, and the usual end of summer flowers, black eyed Susans, golden rod, and Queen Ann’s lace.   Also a good crop of morning glories, which I trained to climb up my sign post in front of the house, as well as along the woodshed and shop.August is also the time for the annual gathering of the Friends of the Shakers. A great time to meet friends, attend lectures, inspect the grounds, see the new acquisitions to the museum, eat, and socialize. During the course of the last year, severe weather brought down one of the big maples in front of the Meeting House, damaging the roof.  Many of the maples were getting old, and decaying, and had to be cut down.  The roof got new shingles, but it will take a while to get used to the loss of those stately old trees.

Next to the Meeting House is the herb garden.  The Shakers still grow and sell a variety of herbs and teas. In the 1794 Meeting House, still in use, is one of the white pine lecterns I made back in the mid 1980’s.Things were busy in my shop as well.  The day bed I started last month finally came together.  There were lots of slats that had to be oiled.  I have a rack with dowels to keep small parts ( like slats and drawer bottoms) separated while the finish dries.The bed itself, finally oiled, assembled, and done, awaits the mattress, bolsters and pillows, currently at the upholsterer.  Not a great photo, especially with limited space,but you get the general idea of the design.I also made six more wall arm lamps, in a variety of woods and shapes.  The four and the left consist of three parts, splined together, plus the base.  the base is screwed to the wall, while the arm swivels.  A groove in top hides the cord, which comes out at the bottom of the base.  The two on the right and single pieces of cherry and maple.  The curvy on on the far right will be burnt with a blowtorch, brushed,and given a coat of satin varnish.  All are destined to go to Tandem Glass for a variety of glass globes and shades.It’s been some time since I got an order for one of my early coat trees.  It is six sided, in cherry, with the Mt. Lebanon acorn finial on top and Shaker pegs below.For the next few months, I’ll be working on a big order destined for Canada, several case pieces, tables and a bed.  I just got a nice load of 20″ wide cherry (from Irion Lumber in Pennsylvania) for a few of those case pieces. 

That’s it for this month.

C. H. Becksvoort © 2018


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July 2018

This July was mostly hot and humid, with a little decent weather in between.  Just right for the  garden, which is doing very well.  With a few more sunny days, the tomatoes will be about ready to harvest and eat.  Meanwhile, the winter squash is taking over the beds in the back row (which I alternate; this year it’s alfalfa).  It does look like the lawn needs mowing.  I’ve got so many things going on that mowing is usually at the bottom of the list. I can sometimes avoid it for up to three weeks.  More in dry weather.

Potted plans and annuals are in full bloom.  Geraniums, fuchsia,  and petunias.All that humidity means a lot of foggy mornings as well.  We’re taking full advantage of summer.  A few days ago, we went blueberry picking, and  got almost eight pounds off of just four bushes, in about half hour.  What a treat.Thank goodness for the heat pump in the shop.  It stays relatively cool and dry.  I made a small bookcase with three shelves.  Also four swinging arm wall lamp brackets.  Three tiger maple and one in cherry.  Three are off to Tandem Glass  for some really cool shades.  I need to make a few more., including the curved version.  These are in demand.  A few will be in the new Maine Craft Portland location, a new outlet just opened by the MCA.

The big project currently is cherry day-bed, twin XL.  Basically a simple, rectangular frame with slats for mattress and cushions.  I spent almost a whole day making 50 mortises, all of which have to align perfectly. Oiling and assembly will be fun.  I’ll have photos when it’s done and back from the upholsterer.

Lastly, some good news. Believe it or not, the new book has a tentative title: Shaker Inspiration: Five Decades of Fine Craftsmanship.  Layout should be done in the near future.  Be on the look out at the Lost Art Press in early 2019!

C.  H. Becksvoort © 2018


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June 2018

Summer is here!  It was hot, hazy and humid today, and  will be for the next few days.  Everything is in full bloom, roses, peonies, and of course my favorite combo, lemon day lilies and Siberian irises.And the garden is finally in.  We had a late May frost so I didn’t get the bulk of the planting done until early June.  The tomatoes, leeks, carrots, and winter squash are  doing just fine.  No bugs, deer, groundhogs or problems yet.  This is what it looked like the second week in June.   This is where all my planer shavings go.Way off in the back, I need to add two more garden beds, the rhubarb is already in one, onions and other goodies will go in the other.  I finally got a load of black locust boards, 1 x 8 x 12 feet long, waiting to be made into 5 ft x 10 f t beds.  They should outlast me and the garden, black locust being one of the most decay resistant native woods.  For a few years now we’ve had a summertime tradition:  A friend and fellow woodworker, an arborist, and I go on a Saturday “Big Trees & Beer” tour around Portland.  This year we saw the biggest copper beech, the only redwood, and the biggest ginko in the area.  The ginko was supposedly brought from China by a Maine sea captain in the late 1800’s  We also got to sample some really tasty brews around town.  Maine has a plethora of really great craft breweries.  So much to enjoy.Aside from the summertime frivolities, there was work to be done in the shop.  After many years of plugging in my dust system, each time I turned on the table saw, I finally added a wooden switch stick.  Hey it works.The big project of the month was another standing desk.  Each one is slightly different depending on the needs and whims of the customer.  This most recent desk had a small frame around the upper part of the writing surface, and a sliding book trough below.Smaller projects included two plant tables, and another dining table.  I finally completed the new chandeliers: cherry, anodized aluminum, stainless steel, and either LED or real candles.  Available in either 8, 10 or 12 arm versions.  One is on its way to the new Maine Crafts Association shop in Portland. Finally, the new DVD “Build a Shaker Lap Desk”  is available, courtesy of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks  Still awaiting the yet untitled book…

C. H. Becksvoort © 2018

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May 2018

May in Maine is always welcomed, and something to look forward to. The last of the dirty snow piles are gone, and the first flowers appear.  White trillium put on a nice show this  year.  I have a section of woodland below the house where I plant and encourage native wildflowers: bloodroot, wake robin, trout lilies, Soloman’s seal,violets, etc.  By mid summer it’s all taken over by jewel weed.In the sunny part of the lawn, where the grass is short and the soil rather poor,  bluets grow in small clumps.What was really astounding this spring, was the overwhelming number of sugar maple seedlings.  Once or twice a decade the sugar maples, or rock maples (Acer saccharum) conspire to inundate the world with seeds (samaras).  Last fall they were everywhere.  This was the result, before I mowed the lawn.Picking them out of the flower beds has been an ongoing chore.  As someone who practices guerilla forestry,  plants trees and scatters seeds whenever possible, I have mixed emotions about mowing down literally  hundreds of thousands of seedlings in one afternoon.  On the other hand, roughly 99.9% would be crowded out and die anyway.

I couldn’t resist this photo, it’s so typically Maine:  snowshoes and lilacs on our small entry porch.

May is also the time for Work Day at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community. The museum opens on Memorial Day.   The forsythia, apples and pears were in full bloom.  We are so fortunate to have both the last active Shaker community and Haystack here in Maine.  This year, we had to bow out of work day, since we were off to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, on Deer Isle.We were lucky to have had three days of sunshine!   I took blacksmithing, and Peg tool precious metal clay.  The days are cool and often damp, and this is one of the most common sights outside the cabins.  Hoping for dry towels.With cool days come cold nights, hence my attending blacksmithing classes for the past several years.  Between the coal forges and gas furnaces, it’s quite toasty.  This year’s class was weather vanes and garden ornaments.  It was the first time I’ve had the chance to use a plasma cutter.  It’s like using a stylus on an iPad, only way cooler!  Flip down the visor and cut away, right through 1/8″ or 1/4″steel.  Great fun.  I made a Ginko biloba weather vane.  The most difficult part was to wrap the rock counter weight in steel, yet make the rock removable in order to paint and rustproof the vane.  With a bit more spare time, and another chance to use the plasma cutter, I made, cut, welded and riveted the “mad woman” weather vane, now in the garden (to be planted this weekend). Both spin freely in the wind, balanced only on a pointed 1/2″ steel rod.Between all that fun, I actually got some work done in the shop.  A maple dining table with drawer.  Off to Oklahoma soon.That was the only piece fully finished.  I’m also starting another standing desk.  Not only that, but I spent two days designing, turning and figuring out how to make a new series of 8, 10, and 12-arm chandeliers.  They should be done next month, in time for the June blog.

This year, May was  the month to re-stock my cherry supply.  I always buy FAS, S3S to 15/16,”  8″ and wider.  That’s a nice pile of mostly 10″ boards and a few 12″ and 14″ wide.  Don’t make the mistake of storing your wood upstairs.  Hauling 500 bdft.,  (about 1.5 tons) of cherry up the steps is no fun, even with help.  If you recall, last August and September, I made a Shaker bench.  It finally made an appearance in Fine Woodworking issue 269.  Have a look.   I’ve also updated the web site, added the two new lamps, and  the stainless steel drip cups are now for sale through the site.

C. H. Becksvoort © 2018

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April 2018

April is usually pretty drab; not spring yet, but not winter anymore, either. There are still piles of dirty snow here and there in shady corners.  But spring is definitely on the way.  Snowdrops, spring snowflakes,  and  crocuses are out in full bloom.I usually take two walks a day, to try to clear my mind, relax and get some exercise.  No more than a mile or about a half hour, depending on the weather and how I feel.  A ways down the road, they’ve cut a few trees for a house lot.  A big white pine was taken down, and I thought I’d share this picture of sapwood ( it’s pine pitch, oozing out of the sapwood).Woodworkers, especially FWW readers,  love April.  Again this year we had FWW Live at Southbridge, MA.  We all had a great time.  It was well organized, interesting and most informative.  It’s always a time to re-connect with other woodworkers, friends, fellow editors, and the staff of FWW.What a crew!  Great people, all. This years keynote speaker was Peter Galbert, chair-maker extraordinaire.  For a young kid, he sure know what he’s doing.  What a  wonderful talk and slide show he put on.  I was severely impressed.

My two courses were on wood movement.  My favorite axe to grind!  I started with the basics, wood tech 101, then on to water and wood, predicting movement for any given wood, any time of year.  Finally, how it all relates to solid wood furniture construction. I brought my little teaching cabinet, completely disassembled, and put it all back together, explaining how to account for wood movement for each step in the process. Oh yes, there were things to make in the shop.  Another round table.  In keeping with the wood movement theme, here is a shot of the underside, showing how the top is attached; anchored in the center, with expansion washers on either side.  the trick of course, is to know where in the slot the screw goes, depending on current and anticipated moisture content.I finally finished the figured maple side table.  Most of it was made from one 12/4 re-sawn plank.  I had to use a different wood for the top and bottom dividers and the back, but the rest is all that nice dark, curly, heartwood.  It looks good with the two drawers.  The drawer fronts are two 3/16″ pieces, re-sawn and book matched, to make the wood go further.As an added note, my dearest got into woodworking this past week.  Made her first spatula.  Rather nice, I must say.  C. H. Becksvoort © 2018

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March 2018

At my age, I should be slowing down, but it’s just not happening.  Instead of fewer things to do, there always seem to be more.  This month was no exception.

First off, it was a real snowy March.  We had two big storms, and one that just grazed us.  Lots of shoveling.  Eventually it will all melt… I hopeA friend in Hawaii sent me a piece of Koa.  I guess that qualifies as a native species, although not North American.  None the less, I wanted to make something from that small pieces.  At 11″, it was not big enough  for a box, but just right for a candle holder.  So I drilled it, added tiger maple feet and stainless steel drip cups.  “Maine Meets Hawaii.”

M.A Stevens-Becksvoort photo.

Incidentally, I just had a new batch of these drip cups made.  Prices have gone up in the last 12 years!   I may make them available at a mere $16. each.  They are really nice, my own design, 1 5/8″ high (4.1 cm) and 2 1/2″ (6.4 cm) diameter.  Brushed stainless steel.  They should be available on the web site in a few weeks.A few months ago, Tom McKenna, editor at FWW, asked me if I wanted to be on “Rough Cut with Fine Woodworking.”  But of course.  Tom McLaughlin, the host,  stopped by my shop twice to make plans for the show.  We decided on the ring lamp as a suitable project.  Tom is amazing, in addition to being a nice guy. He mapped out every step, cut all the parts and made all the arrangements.  I showed up at his shop a day early, and we went over the entire procedure.  The next day the film crew and the folks from WGBH in Boston showed up and we got busy building a lamp.  We shot from 10 in the morning  until 6 that evening , and got the lamp done, finished, wired and lit!  A lot of effort for a 26 minute show.  Great fun, especially working with such a group of professionals.This is Tom McLaughlin’s shop in New Hampshire.  I don’t have new clamps like that.  The lamp frame is in the foreground.  Tom came up with a slick way of cutting the veneer for the rings:  capture them between two pieces of plywood, and run them by the router table with a straight bearing bit. The glued up rings came out perfectly.Oh, and by the way, I still had a few things to make in the shop.  Got to keep the orders going out the door and pay the bills.  I made a 40″ (102 cm) round table, two high stools and four chairs.  The backs of the chairs are steam bent, band sawn, and shaped with a draw knife, before sanding.  Maybe one day, I’ll leave the draw knife facets.  That would be kind of cool.I had to buy a whole cow (hide) for the seats, and took them to my upholsterer, who did a wonderful job.  Everything came together well, got oiled, and assembled and will go out next week to Florida.  Those are my old Hartford clamps in the background.Time to celebrate!  That’s great figure  on the table top… and wonderful Scotch.I received lots of positive feed back last month when I mentioned my current reading.   So this month I’ve looked through the bookcase in the shop and come up with two favorite woodworking books: Der Möbel Bau is a fantastic resource.  Even if you can’t read German, it’s full of a plethora of detailed illustrations.  However, knowing German does help. Some of the joints illustrated are pretty interesting.

The second book is mostly for inspiration:Danish Chairs, has photos of  chairs by the well known, as well as the lesser known designers. No need to wonder where my Haystack chair designs originated.   I love it.  Book recommendations could become a regular thing.

C. H. Becksvoort © 2018


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February 2018

Yet another month has slipped away, much too fast.  Probably because we’re 2 or 3  days short in February.  In any event, we’ve started the freeze-thaw cycle early.  Maple sap buckets are out, the sap run dependent on freezing nights and warm days, which also makes for a messy driving on our dirt road.  I suspect that mud time will be going on for several weeks.  However, we’ve also have had our share of snow. The days are getting longer, and the sun brighter.  Spring is on the way.  Which always means that it’s time to start seedlings.  The first that I plant are onions, leeks, and parsley.Tomatoes , four varieties, will be planted  mid-March, along with marigolds, and basil.  Everything else will be direct seeded in late April, early May.

In the shop, I finished the corner cabinet; oiled figured cherry with walnut knobs.  It was delivered locally, and we had to cut the baseboard and slide the cabinet in from above.  Here it is while still in my workshop.We also had another FWW photo shoot.  Two articles in a single day.  Talk about efficiency!  First up was a new out feed table for my saw.  When I got my SawStop years ago, I kept the old out feed table.  The miter gauge slots didn’t line up, and it was a bit smaller than I wanted.  The new one is full width.

The second article was a Shaker berry box (sometimes used as a small sewing basket as well), white pine with 1/8″ finger joints.  The shoot went well, while the only issue we ran into was bending the handle.  I usually use green or soaked air dried wood, but getting it bent and set in a short span of time was a challenge.  So I made a form, taped & tied the handle to it, crossed my fingers and popped it into the microwave. I tried about 5 or six bursts of 30 seconds each, with 3 or 4 minute cooling off between each .  It worked, and the green tape held fast.  Of course the magazine photos will be much better.  Be on the look out.While digging around in the attic of the shop, I decided to sell the antique library card catalog unit that I’ve had stored there for decades.  It’s dark oak, 52″ high, 32″ wide and 16″ deep.  Five section of 10 drawers each.  $1,600. for the entire unit, or $400, for each of the 5 sections. Pick up here in New Gloucester, ME.Last Sunday we had a good snowfall, and I had nothing planned.  I’d also run out of library books.  So I went upstairs to the pile of books on my side of the bed to dig through old favorites, and found Blue Highways, by William Least Heat Moon.  It’s a trip around the USA in a small van, taking only back roads, and meeting a variety of interesting people. I’ve only read it about 3 times, but it never ceases to amaze, and each time I read it I discover something I missed the last time.    Positive and most enjoyable.

Next up in the shop is a set of four chairs, two stools and a round table.  Monday I drove up to Lewiston to buy a cow.  Just the hide actually, 60 square feet of beautiful black leather.  That and the seat blanks are off to the upholsterer, while I build the chairs and stools.

C.H. Becksvoort © 2018

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